When you have a horse-related lifestyle, chances are good that you also have at least one horse-related goal. Whether it’s to become a better competitor, boost your training skills, make improvements to your horsekeeping facilities, or anything else, a goal is what provides structure and motivation for the work and expense behind having horses in the first place.
Still, it’s not unusual for goals to be sources of frustration. They can cause you to put extreme pressure on yourself, your horse, your family members, and your checkbook. Unattained, goals can lead you to question your commitment or abilities. They sometimes can seem forever out of your grasp, or set you up for disappointment when you come close to reaching them and then miss. They even can make you wonder why you bother to have goals at all.
If your horse goals are complicating your life instead of enhancing it, you need to realize an important thing: The problem isn’t with having a goal, it’s with having an inappropriate or poorly planned one. Attaining a goal is a lot like building an affordable, structurally sound house. First you have to know how great an expenditure is realistic for you, and then you need a set of building plans and construction skills.
This article will give you much of the information you need in order to make this happen. Follow the steps, and you’ll have a working blueprint for better chances at success—not just with horses, but in any other area of your life as well.
The first step in effective goal-setting is to perform an honest, clear self-evaluation of the qualities, resources, and values you bring to your horse activities. To do this, you’ll need to give truthful answers to the list of 20 questions, below. Grab a notebook or head to your computer’s keyboard so you can commit your answers in writing; this will allow you to go back and analyze them.
Before you reply to the questions, record the horse-related goal that’s up- permost in your mind. Do it by completing this sentence: “My horse goal is to __________.”
- How good a rider (trainer, breeder, competitor, etc.) am I now? Poor? Fair? Average? Above average? Excellent?
- How good would I like to be?
- In the past, why have I not progressed as I’d have liked?
- Am I self-disciplined?
- In the time I devote to my horse activities, do I concentrate on what I’m doing, or do I allow my mind and attention to drift to other things?
- Do I take responsibility for my level of achievement—or do I tend to blame others or circumstances (horse, trainer, judges, family members, barnmates, finances, lack of time, job demands) when things go wrong?
- What are the physical skills required for success at my chosen goal?
- Do I understand the rules and regulations that apply to my equine sport or other activity?
- Do I have a grasp of the psychological techniques I need to be successful (anxiety management and visualization, for example)?
- Am I aware of how my thinking helps or hinders me?
- What are my greatest strengths where horses are concerned?
- What are my greatest weaknesses?
- Do I know how to go about improving my weaknesses?
- Do I deliberately work to improve my weaknesses—or do I tend to work only on the skills or activities I already do well?
- How much time per day am I willing and able to devote to my horse activity?
- Do I use my horse time purposefully—or do I use it to fill empty hours?
- Do I spend an appropriate amount of time on improvement of the key ingredients to my success—and have I even determined what those things are?
- Am I willing to do the extras it takes to be successful—such as keeping my horse on a regular schedule for training, feeding, and farrier care; setting and adhering to a budget; working out to increase my stamina and flexibility; seeking outside help?
- Do I have a realistic view of how much money I must spend each month in order to advance toward my goal?
- Am I able and willing to budget for that amount?
Some of the 20 questions require you to write out detailed answers, thus forcing you to gather and examine your thoughts on certain topics. That’s almost always an eye-opening experience.
In your answer to Question 3, for instance, it’s possible that you pinpointed for the first time just what it is that’s been holding you back. In your answer to Question 7, you could have found yourself listing physical skills you don’t yet possess.
The majority of the questions require a simple “yes” or “no” answer. As you may have guessed by now, each “no” zeroes in on an area you need to work on. If you’re to attain a specific goal—any goal—you’ll have to change each “no” answer to a “yes.” In fact, that should be a goal that takes precedence over your others, because each “no” focuses on a reason why you haven’t attained your goal in the past.
Let’s say, for instance, that you aspire to be successful in Western pleasure competition, and that you put down “no” as truthful answers to Questions 14, 16, and 17. Question 14 made you admit to yourself that you work your horse at the gait he does well already instead of spending time learning how to improve his poorer gaits. Number 16 showed you that you’ve been using practice time to goof off or hang out rather than to actually practice. The “no” to Question 17 forced you to decide whether you’ve truly analyzed what it takes to win at Western pleasure—and whether you’ve worked in that direction.
The next step in learning more about yourself is to examine and rank the personal values that matter most to you. The objective will be to determine the top five and to rank them (page 3).
Doing this will make a huge difference in knowing whether your goal is attainable. Why? Because a goal, to be reachable, must be compatible with the things you value most in life. If goals and values conflict, you set yourself up for perpetual unhappiness.